The pressure sweet spot

There are things you know you are capable of, and there are things you’re not sure about. You might have a decades-long habit of brushing your teeth, so you don’t feel pressure when someone asks you if you can brush your teeth.

By contrast, the things you’re not sure about are less certain. For example, showing up at a studio or your desk, and staring at a blank sheet of paper. Seth Godin writes, “Imposter syndrome shows up because we are imposters, imposters acting ‘as if’ in search of making something better.”

There are solutions to this. You can make a templated product, something that fits in your proven genre that has already worked. You can work with a collaborator and try to split the pressure and explore together.

But either way, if you’re making something original, new, and surprising, you’re going to explore. That means you’re not sure what you’re going to make, or how it’ll turn out; you can only know when you are done. Until then, a degree of imposter syndrome is a part of the process. That’s not a problem when you’re in exploratory mode, but let’s say you need your work to make money. That adds some pressure.

Maybe you need your work to do more than just exist. Let’s say you need it to generate a financial outcome, and your family is reliant on it, as is your partner or manager. Or let’s say it means something to your identity—you want your work to impress other people, to bring you validation, to fill a hole of some sort. That’ll create more pressure too. You inevitably start thinking about what other people will want, and what you want gets lost.

As long as you keep at it, your creative practice will be strong enough for you to work amidst this pressure. There will ebbs and flows, and you will show up anyway. And you will also get better at putting yourself in the sweet spot to work under pressure. If it’s too overwhelming, you’ll find a different way to make money (like a day job), or lower your expectations.
Oliver El-Khatib, a close collaborator with Drake, says (28:31), “Being an artist, for real, starts when you actually have to do it on command. Be artistic. Make a song now. It’s not so much like a hobby.” If you want to compete at that level, being able to deliver under pressure is a part of the job description.

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